History Of The Mani
down in the south of the Peloponnese, in the region of Laconia are three
peninsulas, the one in the middle is called Mani.
This is the land of my forefathers. It is believed that after the fall of
the Spartan empire the king sent remnants of his
population to settled around the southern Peloponnese
and in the Mani. Throughout the centuries the Mani also lured Greeks who
were fleeing violence, bloodshed and potential slavery during turbulence
in Greece. Baltic tribes, Venetians, Franks and Turks were a few of the
many invaders that entered Greece. Mani, however has a reputation for
never yielding to invading powers and it is believed by these people that
their Greek blood is pure and never silted by foreign invaders.
The Turks began their conquest of Greece after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Turks were expanding their Ottoman empire and most of Greece would eventually succumb to this super power of the day. The Ottomans would rule Greece for the next 370 years, meanwhile the Venitians were also at war with the Turks which helped divert attention from the Mani. The Ottoman rule over the rest of Greece would last up until the Greek War of Independence, which began in March 1821 and ended by treaty in 1829. During the Turkish conquests Greeks were stripped of their homes and lands and became servants, farmers, and workers for the Turkish invaders. The Greeks were not allowed to own land unless they were extremely powerful and served political agendas for the Turks.
|But the Maniotis
flatly refused the Turkish rule. Centuries of
turmoil hardened the Maniati into stubborn, independent people whom
believed in freedom or death. The Maniotes lived in a land of no law. They
had rigid loyalty to their clans and were fiercely protective of their
lands, families, culture and honor. The men of the Mani were no strangers
to bloodshed, they built their homes in the form of defense fortresses
(stone towers called Pirgos) and it was incumbent
upon the men to protect their families from bandits, theives and pirates or any other
invading threats. The women were also known to join in the fighting! The Maniati did not always need outsiders to provoke violence, they did
extremely well on their own. The Mani became a haven for refugees and
their population did not lessen with their seclusion, the Maniotes grew more
powerfull. They fought over land among themselves, for
arable land was scarce in Mani and the family feuds and vendettas would
last years. The Maniots acquired a reputation for
ferocity and courage in battle. Every man was always armed
with as many weapons as he could manage. In 1600, a French traveler
described them as follows: "These mountain dwellers are so laden
with weapons that they look like hedgehogs. A huge sword is not enough for
them, they carry a gun on their shoulder and in their hands they hold and
axe, a club and a short spear. In addition they often carried two or three
primed pistols in their sashes".
Their Spartan pride could not be shaken not even by the powerful Turkish invaders. When the Turks entered the Mani for the first time in 1460 after they had already taken control of the Peloponnese, they were met by an army of fierce fighting clansmen of the Mani who drove back the Turkish brigades. For the next 16 years the Maniotes fought with the Turks and prevented them from entering or establishing any military positions in the Mani. The Maniotes became very skilled in warfare and were known for their bravery. They were never subdued and were eventually left to govern themselves, bear arms and continue their Greek way of life.
A Maniote man in the 1600s.
|So it came to be that the Mani retained their autonomy. The Turks thought they could at the very least levy a tax on the Maniotes but they rarely could ever collect! So from here on the Maniotes lived in a constant state of readiness for war. Hence the caption above of a Maniote man in the 1600s carrying his weapons. The Mani population began to grow and the family clans became powerful and organized. It wasn't until the Greeks began receiving more privileges from the Turks whose occupation was weakening and were able to send their children to colleges during the late 1700s and 1800s that there began a resurgence of patriotism for the Greeks. The Maniotes started to became educated and began stirring revolution ideas. They began the "secret society" and secretly they met in underground around the country to discuss plans for a revolution. These meeting took place in many places, including the Mani and also Ioannina, the capital province where the Sultan had Ali Pasha Governing the region between central Greece down throughout the Peloponnese. The political climate in Ioannina was less likely to see the revolution crushed due to the fact that Ali Pasha had his own intentions of seeing a Greco-Albanian Greece unite under his rule (his mother was Albanian, not Turkish).|
|In Mani the three strongest clans united under the Aeripoli clan leader Petrobis Mavromichali, the Grigorakis of Gythio, and the Troupakis of Kardamyli joined forces with the Mavromichalis to form a powerful force of 12000. The Maniote army raised their flag of independence on March 17, 1821, it read: Victory or Death. They were clear to point out that they did not say <Freedom or Death> because they have always had their freedom. And below read an ancient Greek warrior inscription; "With the shield or on the shield". They then began their march toward Kalamata attacking the Turkish army there on March 23, 1821 and liberated Kalamata by March 25, 1821 the recognized date.||
The flag raised to declare war on the Turks.
|In a coordinated secret society
plan, war broke out simultaneously in three regions of Greece against the
Turks, which then sparked uprisings everywhere. The Maniatis would lead
the revolution, attacking several Turkish strongholds and showing their
My Great Great Grandfather at the time was a 26 year old man from Kelefa, just outside of Aeriopoli. He joined with his clansmen as did all the Maniati men and witnessed the proceedings that lead up to that first battle at Kalamata. In the Mani, where war and battle were almost always present, Captains of clans, or villages, usually blood related, were established. The Captain or Kapetan as the history recalls were heads of their clans and were the military leaders. These Kapetans and their clans were assimilated into the Maniote brigades as they joined forces to rebel against the Turks. Kapetan Thomas commanded a brigade and my guess is that the men of his brigade were from his clan in Kelefa. I wish I knew more about his war service, like what battles he was in, their travels, and if he had any battle wounds but I just don't know. The war dragged on for about 7 years and it was devastating. Many stalemates and turnings of the tides kept either side from immediate victory but the Maniotes contributed greatly to the cause. One significant event was the battle of Vergas, where the Turks hired a mercenary army from Egypt to attack the Mani.
The Maniotes issued a proud statement that was once used by the ancient pre descendants of the Maniotes to their enemy; "come and take it". The Maniotes destroyed two thirds of the army and added disgrace to the Mercenaries when the Maniati women came out to the battle with sickles and managed to throw the rest of the army into the sea. They battled the Egyptians again in 1826 and totally destroyed the Egyptian leaders army, this practically saved the course of the revolution and renewed hope. The European powers (England, France and Russia) intervened to end the conflict when they combined their navy forces and annihilated the Turkish fleet (completely) in one battle. A treaty was signed by the Turks and Greece was awarded their independence. A Monarchy was installed and the fighting men went back to their villages to try and pick up the pieces of their lives.
Even after the end of the war the Mani were reluctant to even be ruled by the Bavarian royals who were placed in as king. The Maniotes headed back to Mani still in defiance. They continued to build their tower-homes to defend against invaders. After the war my Great Great Grandfather settled back in Mani. I believe that he constructed a home that we call The Mandres, after the war but it may have been built earlier. The Mandres is located on a large portion of land in the area of Kelefa, which is close to Aeriopoli. I had only ever heard of the Mandres from my father, Nicholas Thomas Katsoulaks (Great Grandson of Capt. Thomas) who traveled there in 1976 with my Great Uncle John.
Determined to find the stone tower on my own I traveled with a portion of my family tree, hand written in Greek by my father. I showed the family tree to a taxi driver in Aeriopolis who waved Sandra and I into his car while he drove down to Kelefa and knocked on the door of a Katsoulakos family. It turned out to be a third cousin of mine (our great grandfathers were brothers). She, Maria Katsoulakos was willing to show me the way to the Mandres so I could walk in the spirits of my great grandfathers. The tower and house are still standing in fair shape. The tower is much bigger when you are next to it than from looking at a distance. See pictures below. Maria, my 3rd cousin, explained how each room of the home functioned and how they lived. More pictures and explanations of the Mandres can be found here. Our stay in Aeriopoli (Mani) was a highlight in our travels through Greece. It allowed us to go beyond the beaten path of tourists to see life as it is and how people lived 200 years ago as experienced by our trip to the Mandres and more importantly to connect with my Greek heritage in a very enjoyable way.